Journal , Inspired Ideas

Becoming Barista: How to Create Your Own Personal Coffee Culture

My infatuation with coffee goes way back. It started during my college days, when I was enchanted by all the creative, underground coffee shops in Bloomington, Indiana (Shout out to Runcible Spoon, by the way, which I hope still has bathtubs of goldfish stationed near the register?)

Fast forward a few years, when as a young grad I traveled throughout Europe and met my first love: An artfully-made, decadent espresso. In Italy, I picked up my inaugural Bialetti Moka Pot — the “mustachioed little man” brand. It’s been my go-to wedding and housewarming gift ever since, as I march forward on my personal mission to convert all friends and family to “moka” lovers!

Nowadays, my husband and I love taking turns with our beloved French press and Moka Pot. Most mornings, we pour beans into a hand-crank grinder, because going old school is just plain fun. Also fun: the confusion on the faces of our teenage sons, who don’t see the point of any device that doesn’t have a lithium battery or plug. 

My sons and anyone who knows me knows I don’t take my hobbies lightly. As far as coffee goes, what began as a college coffee crush had evolved into a full-on obsession. And now, prompted by the planning of an upcoming brunch-hosting gig, I was in danger of turning into a clinical coffee stalker. 

A bit of online research turned up a coffee training center nearby. They had me at their name, Counter Culture Coffee, (CCC), a lofty space located on Chicago’s west side. CCC distributes coffee nationwide and specializes in professional-development classes for baristas. Lucky for me, they also host a “Home Brew” class. 

With a few like-minded friends, I headed to class, one step further on my journey to making the perfect cup of coffee. Instructors Nick Kohout and Jeffrey Batchelder kicked things off with a passionate overview of where beans come from. CCC takes great pride in working one-on-one with individual farmers and co-ops to tackle issues like climate change, processing, roasting and other quality-dependent variables. 

Finally, they spilled the beans on coffee fundamentals, including how to craft the quintessential cup via different specialty-coffee brewing methods. The trick — and the fun — as it turns out, is discovering which method is right for you. Personally, I’ve carved a niche in my heart for each one. 

THE METHODS

Pour Over

The pour-over method of coffee brewing is the latest trend percolating in coffee shops everywhere. It’s also extremely easy. TIP: Keep dripper or brew basket at or below 1/3-full. Total brew time should be three to five minutes.

Cold Brew

Iced coffee season is upon us, making cold brew coffee all the buzz - and for good reason. This method is brewed entirely with cold or lukewarm water over a longer period of time, resulting in a less acidic (but still caffeinated) coffee. The result is a smooth, bitter-free drink that tastes delicious over ice.

Aeropress

This unique, portable method is ideal for making just a single cup of great-tasting coffee in 60 seconds or less. Created by the inventor of the famous Aeorobie flying disc, the Aeropress has a cult-like following Europe and is quietly growing in American popularity. TIP: Mix it up by inverting the Aeropress, so that its plunger is on the bottom.

Moka Pot

This pressure-driven brewing method was introduced in Italy in the early 1930s by Alfonso Bialetti. His elegant, compact stovetop appliance remains the go-to choice for strong, flavorful coffee. TIP: To minimize bitterness and speed up brew time, boil water in a kettle before adding to your Moka Pot

French press

Also known as “press” or “plunger pot,” this method produces an excellent pot of coffee that can be brewed at the table. French press pots are plentiful on the market, with brands like Alessi and Bodum known for their high-level design. TIP: Pour half of your hot water over grounds. Known as the “bloom,” this step will produce a top layer of floating grounds. After 30 seconds, gently stir to mix evenly, then pour in remaining water. Place lid on and let steep four to five minutes before slowly depressing plunger.

By design, handmade coffee requires a bit of extra time and patience. But the results are well worth it.

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